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Willow Group, Ltd. Company History


Company History PhotoEver since 1928, the Skalny family has strived to be an innovative and customer-focused company in the basket business. With traditions and core values that have been in place for 95 years, Willow Group, Ltd. has held onto the qualities and beliefs that made us who we are. Our story begins with our grandfather, Ludwig Skalny.

From humble beginnings in southeastern Poland, basket artisan, willow furniture maker, and skilled craftsman, Ludwig Skalny immigrated to the United States in 1906. After working in Boston and then in Detroit, Ludwig and his wife, Aniela, settled in Rochester, NY. Using his basket weaving expertise along with hard work, a strong business ethic, personal integrity, and an American dream, Ludwig Skalny started a small home-based basket-weaving business in his garage workshop—lovingly referred to as "the Shop". His handmade and carefully crafted baskets were quickly in high-demand and sold to local florists, produce markets, food stores and local retail outlets. Quality merchandise and friendly customer service were among some of the fundamental core strengths of the newly founded company. As a proud and successful entrepreneur, Ludwig laid down a solid foundation of business practices that we continue to uphold today.

With the post World War II economic boom, Ludwig’s children John, Joseph, Anna, Edward, and Bernard joined the established and growing company. At this point, 45 basket weavers were employed and the business was transitioned to a family corporation, the L. Skalny Basket Company. Despite the new and larger warehouse/office space, the Skalny family still always referred to the business as "the Shop”. By the mid-1960’s, the firm was one of the largest U.S. importers of baskets and wicker products as the Skalny family sourced product and established trade relationships with more than 30 emergent international economies including Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Spain, Mexico, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. On the home front, the L. Skalny Basket Company developed a first rate wholesale distribution network with noted excellence in salesmanship, quality merchandise, competitive pricing and stellar customer service. The L. Skalny Basket Company was a national leader in the basket industry.

As second generation Skalny family members retired in the 1970’s, third generation basketeer Bernard S. Skalny took over the family business and created Willow Specialties in 1983. Bernie had grown up working at “the Shop” with his grandfather, dad, aunt and uncles and knew the business from the ground up. Armed with a Rochester Institute of Technology Business degree, 20 years of basket business experience, a supportive family, strong work ethic, and future vision, 27 year old Bernie Skalny took his first steps in carrying on the family traditions as well as moving the company forward in his own vision.

Not surprisingly, traditional small business and family values are at the core of the new Willow Specialties division. Working with family business partner and brother Gregory Skalny, who retired in 2008, and currently with business partner James Walsh, Bernie and the Willow family have carried on the family traditions of excellence and leadership in the basket business, but with a modern twist.